"" Rob Parnell's Writing Academy Blog: Free Writing

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Free Writing

It's hot and sticky here today - almost too hot to write.

Ah well, better stop complaining and get on with it! As you probably know, I always put out a newsletter on Fridays, come rain or shine.

That's the kind of commitment writers need to make, I always advise. When you decide to do something, you must do it, finish what you start - because if you get into the habit of doing something, the habit makes you stronger.

That's my theory anyway!

What happens when you can't think of anything to write about?

People ask me this all the time - especially young writers, who feel the overwhelming urge to write, or at least BE a writer, but when it comes to sitting in front of a screen, nothing comes out.

Nothing interesting enough to write down anyway.

Do you get days like this?

I think all writers do. It's worst when you're half way through a novel and you can't think of an interesting way to get to the next plot point.

There are various ways of getting through blocks that involve what I call 'free writing.'

I Read the News Today, Oh Boy

Here's a technique I used to employ on uninspired days.

I'd write down my thoughts on some recent news item or perhaps the political or economic situation. This works well because you can often find you have an opinion about something that you don't particularly have to think through. Just recording your thoughts gives you something to write down.

Of course, this assumes you're not actually writing to be read - that certainly takes the pressure off! But interestingly, later, I'd find that with just a little tweaking, these free form experiments led to publishable articles.

Nowadays I don't really follow the news - it's all too depressing. It makes me feel like I'm helpless and part of something I cannot change.

In fact, I've realized that this is actually a byproduct of being a news junkie. I believe the illusion that world events seem important is actually dis-empowering you.

Better to ignore it all. You'd be surprised how much stronger you feel inside without the added pressure of the world's problems on your shoulders. Plus, you can free your mind to think about important things - like your writing.

Start With Nothing But a Word

Do you keep a writer's journal?

You should. I'm not talking about a simple diary where you record the day's events. Unless you're the President or perhaps Jim Carrey or Megan Fox maybe, it's never going to be an interesting read.

No, a writer's journal's purpose is to record inspiration, pertinent observations, character and story ideas and to list your writing goals and strategies for the coming weeks, months and years.

Again, it's not anything designed to be read - except perhaps by future biographers desperate to see how your mind worked (assuming you get famous one day, of course.)

You should take time out to doodle in your journal at least once a day. I have a couple of exercise books nearby at all times. Sometimes I'll splash out and get something that looks the part but that's not important. The essential thing is to have a place you can record snippets, just words sometimes, that strike you as having potential.

Actually in the last couple of years I've started to use OneNote for this purpose - it's a free Windows program. It's just as good as any writers software that claims to organize your writing ideas. Better, because you can organize it exactly as you like - and you never have to press the 'Save' button (now that's progress!)

Staring Out of the Window

If it's good enough for Einstein, it's good enough for all of us.

The great genius himself said that staring out of the window in his classroom - and in the patent office where he worked - was what gave him the edge over his peers. He wasn't afraid to do nothing but think. Good on him.

But not thinking as in studying a problem and trying to work through it intellectually. No, thinking more in an abstract, day-dreamy sort of way that isn't a million miles away from meditation.

Letting go and releasing yourself from pressure not only relaxes you, it helps put things in perspective and allows your mind to make more fanciful connections.

I spend an hour a day doing this - meditating, strategizing and 'consulting my muses', letting my mind wander and free-fall. Weird thing is, taking an hour out like this seems to extend the the amount of time I have to write. I get less writing done if I don't take this 'hour of power' off every day.

Try it. It seems very indulgent. But I guess that's the point.

Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway

If you have a goal to write a certain number of words a day, write anything. Doesn't matter what. When I get stuck - okay, that's rare these days - but when I do I become my own coach and mentor and will write, for instance, "Come on, Rob, you've got to do this... all you need is one good idea to get you going... so, mister brain, give me an idea or two..."

I find this is a good way of kick starting the writing process. You'll find that if you do this you often circumvent the blocks and you'll be writing before you knew you had a problem.

Write down anything and everything. Say, for example, you keep getting up to do stuff around the house instead of write. Do it, but then come back to you desk and describe what you've just done - the washing up, tidying the books, that phone call to a friend, putting up the shelf in the garage, whatever.

The theory is that once you get into the habit of recording your thoughts and actions, you train your mind to become a writer while you're taking action and interacting with the world.

If you're stuck, take a walk and look around you. Describe what you see in sentences that you can then transfer to a journal. Look at the world as a writer - by which I mean compose words when you're looking, feeling and experiencing the world.

Don't wait for an inspired phrase, merely describe what you're thinking.

Free Writing

We all have a voice inside our heads - the one that comments on everything we do and see and hear and experience. It's an annoying little fella most times but writers can use it to their advantage.

During periods of free writing, simply record what your commentator says. Even if it's critical of you. Sometimes our commentators are like that - a chastising parent only too happy to remind us of our faults. That's okay, write down those things too. Better out that in.

Free writing is exactly what it sounds like. Liberating. Because when you release the criticizer inside your head, you free your mind to plumb your subconscious - where all your true inspiration lies.

The subconscious is great at doing all the things the conscious mind finds so taxing: seeing connections, organizing, sustaining large concepts and generally being the supercomputer it was designed to be.

Let go of your rational mind when you write - the one that says everything's difficult and hard work - and let your subconscious do all the labor, without questioning its ability or worrying about its capacity to help you.

Set yourself free - and be the writer you were meant to be, without questioning the mechanics - and without trying to be like anyone else in the world.

Not only will free writing make you a better writer, it will help you find your unique voice.

Till next time,

Keep writing!

Rob at Home
Your Success is My Concern
Rob Parnell's Easy Way to Write


"Don't think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It's self-conscious and anything self-conscious is lousy. You cannot try to do things. You simply must do things."
Ray Bradbury

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I kind of agree with Bradbury. We have to get to the end before we can really polish a tale.

I spend a lot of time 'thinking.'

When little figures roam around in spaces in my head, it is a kind of plotting.

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